Lovin' the Awkwardness

Yesterday, two things happened to me.

First, I was walking to the sink in the NICU to wash my hands for the 30th time, and two nurses were standing nearby filling syringes with medicines. They were speaking in Kipsigis, the local mother tongue that I know a total of 5 words in. They said something that ended in what sounded like "Jesus." Intuitively, I turned.

-What did she say?
-What did she just say?
-She said you look like Jesus.
-How did you know it was about you? Do you speak Kipsigis?
-No, somehow I just knew from the context. She's about the 30th person to say that.

Later in the afternoon, I was walking back from the clinic, and an orthopaedic patient in a wheelchair stops me. He speaks English:

(we shake hands)
-(warmly) Can I take your picture?
-You want to take my picture?
-You have a camera?
-Yes (he pulls out his phone, which has a camera)
-(pause) Are you an orthopaedic surgeon?
-I just want to take it.

He takes my picture with his phone, and I walk on. I don't know if this was related to the "Jesus" issue. I think it might just be one of the odd things about being a white minority. Children are forever waving to you from the roadside. Once at a conference, we were taking a big group photo, and later I learned that the photographer had zoomed in and taken a picture of just my face. Why? I don't know. Today on rounds, I caught another patient out of the corner of my eye taking my picture with his phone. A veteran missionary has said, "You're always the bride at the wedding."

This kind of unsolicited attention may seem novel during a brief holiday, but it tempts to be oppressive when you are actually living somewhere for a longer period of time.

Nevertheless, I have come to believe that one of the keys to thriving as an expatriate abroad is to accept, nay even to embrace, just this awkwardness. Let it remind of the crazy ride that you have found yourself on. I have found the following 2 coping mechanisms useful:

1. Confront it head on. This leads to some interesting conversations and fun relationships. This morning again, the nurse from NICU greeted me: "Hello Jesus." I jokingly engaged the topic with her and she gave her dismissive (yet lame) defense: "Well, you are a Christian, and so you are Christ-like, so I call you Jesus." (pretending that it's not my beard and my white-ness.) I replied: "Enoch (a Kenyan sitting next to us) is a Christian and he's Christ-like, but you're not calling him Jesus."

2. Occasionally up the ante. Missionaries tend to prefer assimilation, but every once in a while, you just need to stick out like a sore thumb and be proud of it. And so when John and I wandered through the urban matatu (public minibus) station, taking photos of their crazy window decals, we got the entire crowd of drivers following us, thinking "Look at those crazy white people." It was rather freeing.

1 comment:

Jamie Paauw said...

Eric, I know exactly what you mean. We good looking people are plagued by popularity and paparazi taking pictures of us for their collections or internet postings. It is just a cross we have to bear. I feel your pain. Fellow good looking white guy,